We all procrastinate from time to time. Sometimes it’s those mundane things - like sorting through old files, reconciling accounts, or tidying the linen cupboard. But often it’s the bigger things that require more time, more commitment, and put us at more risk of failing, looking foolish or feeling emotionally bruised. Things like updating our resume to look for a new job, confronting a situation that weighs us down, or pursuing a long held aspiration.
Of course people come up with all sorts of creative reasons why now, today, just isn’t the right time. Too busy. Too broke. Too stressed. Too risky. Too uncertain. Too inexperienced. Too old. Too young. Too disruptive. Occasionally those reasons are valid. But more often they are simply excuses for doing the real work and experiencing the emotional discomfort inherent in making meaningful changes in our work and lives.
At the core of that discomfort is fear. That potent and instinctive emotion whose reason for being is to protect us from pain (including the emotional variety) and urge us away from anything it perceives might threaten our sense of self, injure our pride, or rattle our world. However, left unchecked, those fears can drive us to cling on to the hope that if we procrastinate long enough, our situation will improve, or our misgivings will magically evaporate and be replaced with newfound clarity and courage. We tell ourselves that ‘one day’ we will be ready to make a change, or take a chance; that ‘one day’ the timing will be better, our confidence stronger, our circumstances easier.
Unfortunately the reverse is generally true. As the days roll steadily by, our fears grow larger, not smaller, until they eventually lead to a burial ground for unfulfilled dreams and untapped potential. All the time, our procrastination can exact a steep toll on our finances, career, business, relationships and health. We are loath to admit it, but in electing to put off today what can be done tomorrow, we inadvertently sell out on our happiness – both today, and in the many tomorrows that comprise our future. Philosopher William James was not understating the impact of procrastination when he said, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an unfulfilled goal.”
As I wrote in Stop Playing Safe, “Life rewards action. Nothing great is accomplished without it.” The 7 strategies below will help you step through worn out excuses and into the bold actions needed to enjoy more of what you want in your life. Read them now. Apply them now. Delay grows increasingly expensive.
7 Strategies to End Procrastination and Start Into Action
- Write down your goal and give yourself a deadline. A goal without a deadline can be put off indefinitely.
- Break your goal into small pieces. The bigger your goal or the change you want to make, the more quickly it can send you into overwhelm. So if your goal feels daunting, break it into manageable, bite-sized steps. Remember, you don’t have to know every step of the way; just the next few steps immediately ahead.
Your next steps will become obvious as you move along.
- Visualize the future you want. Imagine the emotions you will feel. Picture yourself in a favorite place celebrating what you’ve accomplished. Imagine those who love you most celebrating your success.
- Harness fear. Fear is a powerful emotion that can keep us mired in excuses. Yet, by focusing on what you don’t want, you can harness it in your favor. So write down how you will feel a year from now if you do nothing. Be brave and really honest with yourself about the cost of continued inaction. After all, if nothing changes, nothing changes!
- Build accountability. Enlist a support team or an accountability partner or, as I suggested in Stop Playing Safe, recruit your own Personal Board of Advisors to help keep you focused and on track. Set up a time to check-in regularly and let them know ways in which they can help. For instance, to remind you of past accomplishments, and why you set about making these changes in the first place.
- Reward progress. Set up a reward system to ensure you celebrate progress and small successes as you go along. Whether a fun activity with friends, or a treat for yourself, make it something that acknowledges your progress and effort.
- Act bravely daily. Starting today. Building momentum is crucial as you start out. So commit to stepping out of your comfort zone at least once per day. Beginning today - before your fear-laden excuses, disguised as sheer laziness, kick in again. It can be something really small. After all, it doesn’t matter how fast you are going, so long as you are stepping forward in a direction that inspires you. So take that first step, then another, then another… after all - life rewards action!